The Child Welfare League of America recently released a special issue of its Child Welfare Journal that is focused on young people in foster care who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity (LGBTQ).
Composed of a dozen academic articles, the publication underscores the stark challenges that these young people face and the pressing need for more data as well as best practices aimed at keeping these youth emotionally and physically safe while ensuring their long-term well-being.
Jeffrey Poirier, a Casey Foundation senior associate, contributed to the publication, titled Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity/Expression and Child Welfare. In addition to co-editing the issue, Poirier co-authored one of its articles — an examination of the experiences of gay and lesbian youth involved in the Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative’s Opportunity Passport™.
His article, which shares data culled from a survey of nearly 2,500 program youth, indicates that young people who are in foster care and gay or lesbian are more likely to experience homelessness and numerous child welfare placements. These youth are also less likely than their peers to have adult mentors, according to the data.
This data-driven perspective — that gay and lesbian youth in care face a uniquely steep climb to adulthood — is an overarching theme of the issue. But the collection of articles also “shine a light on how child welfare leaders can improve policies, practices and programs to do better,” says Poirier.
One place to start making improvements, according to Casey’s Child Welfare Strategy Group Director Tracey Feild, is to begin counting youth in foster care who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Foundation recently made this switch, adding sexual orientation and gender identity prompts to its survey of Opportunity Passport participants nationwide.
Feild, who penned the publication’s foreword, describes filling in these data blanks with a clear sense of urgency. “We cannot continue to remain in the dark, without national data on the prevalence in foster care of children who are LGBTQ and information about their outcomes and experiences,” she writes. “The stakes are too high."